COLUMBIA, Mo. Most drug therapy interventions for people with autism have targeted psychiatric problems, including aggression, anxiety and obsessive behavior. Now, University of Missouri researchers are examining the use of propranolol (a drug used to treat high blood pressure and control heart rate as well as to reduce test anxiety) to improve the primary traits associated with autism difficulty with normal social skills, language and repetitive behaviors. MU researchers say the drug is a promising new avenue for improving language and social function.
"We can clearly say that propranolol has the potential to benefit language and may help people with autism function appropriately in social situations, including making eye contact with others," said David Beversdorf, associate professor and Thompson Endowed Chair at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. "Enhancing both language and social function is significant because those are two of the three main features of autism. Clinical trials will assess the drug's effect on all three features, including repetitive behaviors."
Propranolol has been used for decades with minimal side effects reported in healthy individuals. The MU researchers are the first to study the benefits of the drug in autism in a controlled manner. The next step is to conduct clinical trials to determine if the benefits are sustained over time and if the benefits outweigh other effects.
Propranolol acts by reducing the effect of norepinephrine brought on by stress in order to allow the brain to function as if there is no stress. This is beneficial for persons who have trouble with test taking. In people with autism, the brain is hardwired in a different way, making processing more rigid in terms of social function and language. The researchers think that the drug acts on these hardwired processes and therefore, improves tasks and functioning in these areas.
"When healthy pers
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University of Missouri-Columbia